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Hills v. Bridgeview Little League Association

June 14, 1999


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Tully

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. Honorable Thomas E. Flanagan, Judge Presiding.

Plaintiffs, John and Patricia Hills, brought an action against defendants, Bridgeview Little League Association (Bridgeview) and Justice Willow Springs Little League (Justice), seeking damages for John Hills' personal injuries and Patricia Hills' loss of consortium. Plaintiffs' claims arose from the remaining defendants' beating of John Hills during a little league tournament that Justice organized. The jury found in plaintiffs' favor, awarding John Hills $632,710 and Patricia Hills $125,000. In addition, the jury apportioned fault equally to Bridgeview and Justice. The trial court denied Bridgeview's and Justice's requests for post-trial relief. Bridgeview and Justice appeal. Plaintiffs sued the Loys, who are not parties to this appeal, for intentional torts. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 301 (155 Ill. 2d R. 301).

We affirm for the following reasons.

The relevant facts are as follows. John Hills and his team were members of the Lemont Little League. By invitation, they participated in a tournament that Justice organized, paying an entrance fee and providing a surety bond to Justice. Justice owned the field on which the teams played. On July 30, 1990, Hills' team played one of Bridgeview's teams. Hills was the first base coach for his team. On Bridgeview's team, Ted Loy, the volunteer manager since 1989, had chosen his brother George Loy, Sr. and George Loy, Jr. as his coaches. Ted Loy was the official Bridgeview representative at the Justice tournament on July 30, 1990 because none of the Bridgeview board members were there. Bridgeview never had any evidence that Ted Loy had fought with anyone during any little league games.

During the first inning, the umpire called a conference because one of the Bridgeview coaches disagreed with the umpire's calls. Starting in the third inning, George Loy, Sr. verbally threatened Hills while Hills was coaching at first base. At one point, he came out of the dugout and stood about five feet from Hills, called him a "mother f----- ," and said that he was "going to kick his ass." George Loy, Sr. said, "this is for what happened earlier during the first inning." Hills was not worried about Loy because the Bridgeview manager and the Justice umpires were on the field.

According to Rebecca Deverdier, Loy's behavior worsened during the last several innings. In the sixth inning, Loy ran within three feet of Hills' back, flailing his fist and arms. At that point, Patricia Hills asked Michael Putrow, her nephew, to go to first base to see what was happening. Putrow saw Loy acting in a more volatile manner and running within three feet of Hills. Ted Loy was in the dugout the whole time and never did anything to restrain George Loy, Sr.

At the end of the sixth inning, Loy attacked Hills from behind when Hills bent over. Loy beat and kicked Hills. Ted and George Loy, Jr. did nothing to restrain George Loy, Sr. Patricia Hills ran to the first base area and screamed for help. Neither the first base umpire nor the home plate umpire helped John Hills. The Justice announcer did not make any announcements regarding the attack, and did not help Hills. In addition, none of the Loys did anything to restrain each other throughout the attack. In fact, Ted Loy came out of the dugout and kicked John Hills about 10-15 times. George Loy, Jr. then joined the attack.

The attack stopped for about one minute when Lemont's third base coach, George Keeler, separated George Loy, Sr. from Hills. George Loy, Sr. broke away from Keeler and hit Hills again with his fists, breaking Hills' nose. Scott Van Wagner, an umpire, picked up George Loy, Sr. and carried him to the dugout.

The fighting stopped again for about one minute. George Loy, Jr., who was 16 years-old, broke the lull. He beat Hills with a baseball bat for about 10-15 minutes. Patricia Hills ran to the concession stand to ask for help. Someone called the police, who arrived within five minutes.

The following issues are presented on appeal. Bridgeview and Justice contend that the trial court erred in denying their motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial and that the court erred in allowing the jury to apportion fault between Bridgeview and Justice and not to the Loys. Justice additionally argues that the court erroneously struck its Tort Immunity Act defenses.

In the instant case, defendants point out the difference between moral and legal duties. Mindful of that difference, we note that this case presents us with the question of where to draw the line between the two. It involves a unique and disturbing set of facts, according to which plaintiffs alleged that defendants acted negligently in failing to supervise and control three individuals' unconscionable behavior. As we will discuss, our careful review of the record shows that the jury's verdict was not against the manifest weight of the evidence and that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying defendants' motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or for a new trial. Moreover, we do not find that the trial court erred in allowing the jury to apportion fault only between Bridgeview and Justice, or in striking Justice's Tort Immunity Act defenses. We will review each defendant's issues on appeal separately.

I. Bridgeview Little League Association

Bridgeview first contends that it was entitled to judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the negligent supervision counts. According to Bridgeview, the attack was not reasonably foreseeable because there was no evidence that it knew or should have known that the Loys had propensities for violence. Bridgeview also argues that because none of its board members were present at the game, it did not have the opportunity or the knowledge necessary to exercise control over the Loys.

Plaintiffs' complaint contained separate counts against defendants - some for negligent supervision and some under the theory of respondeat superior. In their negligent supervision counts against Bridgeview, which involve a direct liability theory, plaintiffs alleged in pertinent part that Bridgeview "had a duty to exercise due care and control over the individuals it allowed to be coaches of the little league team." In addition, plaintiffs alleged that Bridgeview was "negligent by failing to ...

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